I think we are all watching the death throes of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct on the Tour de France this year.
It has traditionally been the practice that, when one rider falls or has mechanical trouble, his competition will wait for him to get back on his bike and catch up before resuming racing. We saw Fabian Cancellara marshalling the peloton in Belgium when the Schleck brothers fell.
However, by the time the race had progressed to the Pyrenees, we had seen Alberto Contador fail to wait for Andy Schleck when the latter’s chain came off, and consequently to take eight seconds off him in the classement général. And Carlos Sastre, after another incident, issued a statement saying, “I didn’t wait. Why should I? No-one waited for me. Anyone who has any issue with my behaviour can talk to me directly.”
Road cycling in Europe is a sport in which the concertive power of peer expectations is very powerful, with all those French and Belgian riders. They have no qualms about insulting foreigners who step out of line and they have a number of subtle French insults to deploy if they feel like it. I’m not sure it is exactly gentlemanly conduct that they are up to. But certainly respecting traditional codes of behaviour. And it does seem to have broken down before our eyes over the last week.
I guess next week we will hear the results of the blood-tests. If it is the same as last year then the top ten riders will all be disqualified…
I was actually surprised to see that this level of sportsmanship and consideration for one’s adversary is still being practiced in road cycling. Most other sports abandoned it years ago. I recall from the ‘70s that it was common in the game of cricket for a batsman to ‘walk.’ This is a practice where the batsman knows that he snicked the ball with bat or pad, but the umpire missed it. Without saying a word the batsman would take off his gloves, tuck his bat under his arm and walk back to the pavillion. In recent years I have never seen a batsman walk and in fact the official policy of the Australian cricket team is not to walk. Cricketers give interviews saying, “I don’t believe in walking. The umpire missed it. Good for me. The important thing is winning.”
In Rugby Union last year when Sterling Mortlock came back from shoulder reconstruction surgery I observed the Springbok forwards deliberately land on his shoulder in the tackle again and again in an effort to ‘pop it.’ In AFL that sort of behaviour is completely normal and a player coming back from a hamstring injury will be kicked accidentally in the hamstring. A player known to have his ribs taped, will catch elbows all day long. Even in the World Cup we saw Dutch strikers being stamped on by Uruguayan players.
That’s it these days, I’m afraid. Winning is everything. Money talks. The rest is naïveté and historical anachronism. And if you watch children playing sport you will see them doing all the same things because they imitate what they see on television. Makes me feel old and inconsequential. All I can do is write blog posts observing the passing.